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Sustainable diets and sustainable food systems are increasingly explored by diverse scientific disciplines. They are also recognised by the international community and called upon to orient action towards the eradication of hunger and malnutrition and the fulfilment of sustainable development goals. The aim of the present paper is to briefly consider some of the links between these two notions in order to facilitate the operationalisation of the concept of sustainable diet. The concept of sustainable diet was defined in 2010 combining two totally different perspectives: a nutrition perspective, focused on individuals, and a global sustainability perspective, in all its dimensions: environmental, economic and social. The nutrition perspective can be easily related to health outcomes. The global sustainability perspective is more difficult to analyse directly. We propose that it be measured as the contribution of a diet to the sustainability of food systems. Such an approach, covering the three dimensions of sustainability, enables identification of interactions and interrelations between food systems and diets. It provides opportunities to find levers of change towards sustainability. Diets are both the results and the drivers of food systems. The drivers of change for those variously involved, consumers and private individuals, are different, and can be triggered by different dimensions (heath, environment, social and cultural). Combining different dimensions and reasons for change can help facilitate the transition to sustainable diets, recognising the food system's specificities. The adoption of sustainable diets can be facilitated and enabled by food systems, and by appropriate policies and incentives.
The globalisation of agrifood systems is a mega-trend with potentially profound nutritional implications. This paper describes various facets of this globalisation process and reviews studies on nutritional effects with a particular focus on developing countries. Results show that global trade and technological change in agriculture have substantially improved food security in recent decades, although intensified production systems have also contributed to environmental problems in some regions. New agricultural technologies and policies need to place more emphasis on promoting dietary diversity and reducing environmental externalities. Globalising agrifood systems also involve changing supply-chain structures, with a rapid rise of modern retailing, new food safety and food quality standards, and higher levels of vertical integration. Studies show that emerging high-value supply chains can contribute to income growth in the small farm sector and improved access to food for rural and urban populations. However, there is also evidence that the retail revolution in developing countries, with its growing role of supermarkets and processed foods, can contribute to overweight and obesity among consumers. The multi-faceted linkages between changing agrifood systems and nutrition are a new field of interdisciplinary research, combining agricultural, nutritional, economics and social sciences perspectives. The number of studies on specific aspects is still limited, so the evidence is not yet conclusive. A review at this early stage can help to better understand important relationships and encourage follow-up work.
Global demand for meat and dairy products has increased dramatically in recent decades and, through a combination of global population growth, increased lifespan and improved economic prosperity in the developing world will inevitably continue to increase. The predicted increases in livestock production will put a potentially unsustainable burden on global resources, including land for production of crops required for animal feed and fresh water. Furthermore, animal production itself is associated with greenhouse gas production, which may speed up global warming and thereby impact on our ability to produce food. There is, therefore, an urgent need to find methods to improve the sustainability of livestock production. This review will consider various options for improving the sustainability of livestock production with particular emphasis on finding ways to replace conventional crops as sources of animal feeds. Alternatives, such as currently underutilised crops (grown on a marginal land) and insects, reared on substrates not suitable for direct consumption by farm animals, represent possible solutions. Coupled with a moderation of excessive meat consumption in wealthier countries, such strategies may secure the long-term sustainability of meat and milk production and mitigate against the adverse health effects of excessive intake.
While we state it seems unthinkable to throw away nearly a third of the food we produce, we still continue to overlook that we are all very much part of this problem because we all consume meals. The amount of food wasted clearly has an impact on our view of what we think a sustainable meal is and our research suggests food waste is a universal function that can help us determine the sustainability of diets. Achieving sustainability in food systems depends on the utilisation of both culinary skills and knowledge of how foods make meals. These are overlooked by the current food waste debate that is concerned with communicating the problem with food waste rather than solutions to it. We aim to change this oversight with the research presented here that demonstrates the need to consider the role of food preservation to reduce food waste and the requirement for new marketing terms associated with sustainability actions that can be used to stimulate changes in consumption behaviours. We have chosen frozen food to demonstrate this because our research has shown that the use of frozen foods results in 47 % less household food waste than fresh food categories. This has created a step-change in how we view food consumption and has stimulated consumer movements that act across different products and supply chains to enable the consumption of the sustainable meal.
‘Wholesome Nutrition’ is a concept of sustainable nutrition that was developed at the University of Giessen in the 1980s. In this concept, health and the ecologic, economic, social and cultural dimensions of nutrition are equally important. In 1992 at the UN-Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro the definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ comprised the dimensions environment, economy and society. Additionally to these three ‘classical’ dimensions of sustainability, we included ‘health’ as the fourth dimension because nutrition has far reaching effects on human health. The fifth dimension, ‘culture’, became part of the sustainability dialogue since many years; the respective cultural background influences food habits. Presently, mankind has to cope with huge global challenges such as poverty and food insecurity in low-income countries as well as climate change. Therefore the objective is to identify prospects for actions to respond to these global challenges. The concept of ‘Sustainable Nutrition’ analyses the food supply chain at all stages from input-production and primary production to processing, distribution, preparation, consumption and waste disposal. The present analysis leads to the following seven principles: preference of plant-based foods, organic foods, regional and seasonal products, preference of minimally processed foods, Fair Trade products, resource-saving housekeeping and enjoyable eating culture. This concept is based on holistic thinking and has the potential to reduce the global challenges in the field of nutrition. Scientists, stakeholders, multipliers and consumers are asked to consider environmental, economic, social and cultural aspects in addition to the biological (health) aspects.